“If you feel comfortable to go on a date on Valentine’s Day, we could go out then.”
I had planned on avoiding Valentine’s Day this year. Those plans involved signing the lease on my new Range Rover Evoque and going for a kind of joy ride. Heading north a ways. Away from the red mylar heart-shaped balloons and pink doillies bombarding you at every store from Duane Reade to Saks. Perhaps I’d go somewhere I could test my new car’s off-roading capabilities, or take it somewhere where I could get lost on my snowshoes (but not really lost, cuz it’s winter and that would end badly.)
My stomach churned a little bit at his text message. A Valentine’s Day first date with the most stunning and potentially most interesting man you’d ever met? This was bound to go as badly as my snowshoeing without a map plan.
I am famously neutral about Valentine’s Day. I have a knack for ending relationships ahead of the holiday, and so I can’t remember if I have had a legit Valentine. My mother often comes to my rescue, buying me necklaces, or chocolate, or shapewear to help me turn future first dates into second dates. I’ve also fulfilled the day’s requirements by going bar-hoping with plantonic male friends.
This year, my right hand in the office, my Gallery Coordinator and I agreed to be each other’s Valentine. I’m taking a comp day on Valentine’s Day, so I cheated and gave her a box of truffles on Wednesday.
The best Valentine’s present I ever got was Kasey, my Cairn Terrier. She was a grey-black puppy who I nicknamed my Blue Valentine. She liked to chase feet and sit on my lap while I sat at my desk, writing on my laptop.
“Do you think he’ll bring you flowers?” my girlfriend Sammy asked when I told her I’d accepted the invitation from the European PhD who bore an uncanny resemblance to Rupert Penry Jones.
While I’d welcome the gesture, I confessed, part of me hopes he won’t. They’d totally steal the thunder from my new car — I’m a sucker for flowers.
“What are you doing on the 14th?” Brian asked. “Would you be our Valentine?”
When Brian says “our” he means him and his Cliff. And their housemate. It’s the best Valentine’s Day a gal could ask for. There will be great conversation. There might be candlelight. There will likely be pasta. I’ll definitely be wearing that lacy item I bought using my Victoria’s Secret gift card — but that’s for me, not for Brian, Cliff, or the housemate because sometimes a gal needs to feel a little femme fatale on night out… even if she’s the only one who notices.
In my elementary school youth, Valentine’s Day was one of my favorite holidays. Everyone would come into school bearing candy for every one of his or her classmates. At the end of the day, you would have as many “Will you be Mine?” notes as you had kids in your homeroom.
It was a holiday of equal opportunity love.
Then we developed hormones.
Eventually, I spent the days leading up to the holiday lingerie shopping with my girlfriends as they went to pick out that special something for their sweethearts or went bouquet-buying with my guy friends who didn’t know whether or not roses were too cliched. I had managed to dodge Cupid’s arrows, and so was best put to use playing Venus’s other little helper.
I grew a little bitter. “Valentine’s Day is a holiday developed by older married women to make younger single women feel inadequate” –> this is something I apparently wrote in a notebook one year. I think it might have been one of those many years when the guy I liked decided to take my roommate/best friend/someone else out for Valentine’s Day instead of me.
Last year, I found a box of Victorian-style Valentines at a bookstore. They appealed to my inner history nerd and so I bought them. It was time to drop the bitter single girl act that had plagued my late teens and early twenties and to return to being that youthful innocent who loved that Valentine’s Day was an excuse to wear excessive quantities of pink lace, an excuse to eat lots of chocolate, an excuse to tell people you care about that you care about them.
And so each of my friends received a vintage Valentine in their mailbox, complete with a LOVE stamp.
I don’t have a Valentine in the traditional sense this year, but I’m content. I have good friends, a box of Valentines that need to be postmarked, dark chocolate, and that something lacy for that someone special — myself.
Two days later and my upper lip is still the swollen byproduct of an overly aggressive display of affection from my Valentine. Rough-housing on the floor with a 3 month old terrier puppy is always risky business, no matter how small the tyke. Don’t let those miniature milk teeth fool you — they pack a mean pinch.
Wrap a red bow around its neck and call it Cupid, my new cairn terrier puppy Casey was my accidental Valentine this year. Accidental, because we almost didn’t pick her, but she wasn’t going to let us go home without her.
Last April, we lost Jessie, our 12-year old, brighter than a sunbeam cairn terrier. Since then, there’s been a gaping hole in the family. But to be honest, while we desperately wanted another dog in Jessie’s likeness, we weren’t fully committed to the endeavor of finding one. Jessie was survived by 2 other terriers, and we felt we owed them both more attention.
Plus, puppies are huge emotional and physical commitments. Sure, I’ve cooked dinner for hungry boyfriends, but doing so wasn’t a mandated responsibility in the relationship. Puppies have to be fed. They also have to be picked up after, disciplined and loved (maybe they’re not so different from my exes after all). The analogy to children is apt, except that when it comes to puppies, we get to pick what breed, what gender and what disposition enters the family. Our standards were high.
Casey wasn’t our first choice. When we visited her litter 4 weeks ago, we came away wanting her sister. Casey’s ears drooped and her blueish, mottled coat made her look more warthog than terrier. Her sister was lighter in color with ears like tea-saucers — we saw her and saw our lost Jessie.
But Casey had other ideas.
On our second visit, Casey came to bat. My mother reached into the pen to examine the pup. Casey looked at my mum, looked at her tournmaline earrings, which matched her pink collar, and dove. Before my mother could ask for assistance, Casey had swallowed the 2 carat stud. Was it a sign? We were doubtful. It took her a day and a half for my mother to have a complete pair of earring again.
On Valentine’s Day, we got a phone call to tell us the puppy was ready and that Casey was our only option. We didn’t think we were going to proceed — a puppy that eats gem stones may develop other bad habits. The hour and a half car ride was spent comparing the pup with the pink collar to the one with the white. By the time we got there, we were on the fence. Casey wasn’t. As I walked into the puppy room, she practically leap over the coral gate and into my arms. I caved and the little pup with the pink collar came home with me.
Cupid’s arrow hit me hard this February 14th, just when I was least expecting it. But then again, that’s what they say about love, puppy or otherwise.
Every year, I I try not to blame Hallmark for the excessive quantities of pink hearts floating around retail stores come February. I try not to label St. Valentine’s Day a holiday institutionalized by older married women in order to make younger single women feel inadequate. I try not to reduce February 14th to an excuse to eat excessive quantities of dark chocolate and caramel.
Most years I fail — I eat thousands of calories worth of heart-shaped truffles, I shoot bitter stares at older couples, and I “accidentally” knock bags of Sweethearts off the drug store shelf and “accidentally” step on them.
I blame Katie and a boy named Tony for my general animosity towards the holiday.
In the 6th grade, a single carnation-gram arrived on my homeroom desk with a note “Love, your secret admirer.” I was appropriately tickled pink. I moved from social studies to earth science on a cloud — what joy! At dismissal, Katie confessed she had bough carnation-grams for all our girl friends. My little 11 year old balloon was burst.
Many, many, many years later, Tony would burst yet another heart-shaped bubble.
Of all our friends, we were the only two still single, and I confess that I was somewhat “in love” with him. When he suggested that we spend Valentine’s Day together, I took it as a sign he wanted to be more than friends. We agreed on casual, but when we ended up in a sports bar on “All You Can Eat Wing Night,” I wished I had worn my sports bra instead of the lacy push-up restricting the blood supply to my extremities. Midway through the evening, my toes were numb and a chunk of some frat-boy’s wayward vomit landed on my pink satin motorcycle jacket.
As Tony walked me home, we conversed by screaming, our ears still not adjusted to normal noise levels. We stopped on the stoop of my building and moved close together, our eyes full of intention and confusion. I don’t know how much time passed, but I’m sure we reached a world record for longest awkward pause. I eventually broke the stand-off with a kiss on the cheek and a g’night.
My bra had broken a rib, my jacket reeked of regurgitated chicken wings, and my “date” and I had loss our sense of hearing — it was the most romantic Valentine’s Day I had ever had.
I’m sure one day I’ll be over my February the 14th phobia and once again become lover of Valentine’s Day. But I doubt carnations and men named Tony will have anything to do with my recovery.
The calendar tells me it’s closer to Valentine’s Day than it is to Christmas, and yet until yesterday the stockings were still hung by the chimney with care. There’s no room for Cupid’s arrows and heart-shaped chocolates when your home is still overrun with elves and 8 tiny reindeer.
Traditionally, the family commences de-decorating on the first day of the New Year. It takes all the 12 Days of Christmas and then some to get each turtle dove and leaping lord out of its box, but usually we’ve closed the book on Christmas by January 2nd.
Not this year.
It’s hard to let go of the holiday spirit when you’re buried under a snow drift. Plus, the 9 dancing ladies find the basement very dreary. My feet were dragging, but eager to begin the march towards robins, daffodils, and bunnies, I finally armed myself for de-Christmasing.
I stood in front of the table and assessed my supplies. It was all there:
In the past, stowing away Christmas has been left to my father — which explains why more than one of the reindeer are missing feet. It’s also why I never realized how much more work it is to put away the holiday cheer than it is to spread it. A whole day spent wrapping wreaths in tissue paper and porcelain evergreens in bubble wrap. A whole day sorting gift wrap into drawers and bells into boxes. A whole day nagged by the question: does bubble wrap have a right side up? I guess I’ll find out in 11 months when I unwrap Mickey Santa.
One thing I refused to take down and store away are the outdoor lights. The city is swamped in slush. The sidewalks smothered in Mt. Everest-sized snow piles. Winter is growing dreary. Yet, the red, green, and blue lights bring a bit of joy. There’s something about looking out the window at the glow of LED lightblubs playing on the snow that cuts through the gray gloom — it’s a little carnival in ice crystals. The winter promises to be long. Will I be willing to put away the Christmas lights before July? Here’s hoping.
Last night, my dearest male friend phoned me for a long overdue catchup. Once we moved through the requisite “the way we live now” summaries, the conversation turned to diamonds. Yes, those kinds of diamonds. Earlier in the week, one of his coworkers had “popped the question” and suddenly found himself a fiance to a fiancee. His coworker’s news set off an alarm — now firmly settled in Los Angeles, with his own longtime squeeze readying herself to join him and armed with a bonus to be put towards a mortgage on their first home, my Main Mellow Man’s own engagement had become eminent. Understandably, the boy had bling on the brain.
His phone call and the excessive number of bridal magazines accosting me at the Whole Food checkout counter this morning were glaring reminders that February is a month for declarations of love and promises of everlasting devotion.
Only a few days earlier, another dear friend called with some relationship news of her own. She had received an email from her ex-boyfriend. They hadn’t spoken since he had abruptly and badly broken up with her. It wasn’t a post-it note break up, but in many ways it was far worse. 5 months had passed and she was finally settling into the freedom of her new singleton status. The attempt to reestablish contact stormed her inbox without warning. It was a “mustard gas” email and she was ill-equipped for the attack.
The email sought absolution for his sins — he felt guilty for being so selfish. The email was apologetic — he was sorry, so sorry, for ending their 5-year romance without having voiced his concerns about their “problems.” The email sought her sympathy — the silence eradicated their entire relationship, and he didn’t want to do that, after all, some of those years had been good years. The email, with its saccharin sting, was the meanest thing he could have possibly done.
When she showed me the email, in an understandable fit of panic, I had this awful sense of deja vu. The story was all too familiar: terrible break-ups initiated by the guy. Several months of silence — usually demanded by the “injured” female. Then the email from the ex-boyfriend attempting to reestablish contact. The language is the same — from the apology to the request for some sort of response, even if negative. I’d seen it all before — in my own inbox and in the inboxes of too many of my girlfriends. Don’t these guys understand that no apology is going to let them off the hook? They don’t get to stop being the bad guy in the story of “us.” They gave up their right to absolution when they told us they didn’t love us anymore.
When a relationship ends, the power dynamic changes. In theory, while a couple is together there is no dominate “leader” — both parties exercise equal responsibilities. Of course, we know this isn’t true. There’s usually one person who makes more demands on the relationship than the other; one person who needs to have his/her way, who needs more support, etc. And more often than naught, it’s this lack of symbiosis that is the root cause of a breakup. So half of couple decides they want out. At the moment of the breakup, the initiator of the end is fully in control — after all, they got to close the book on the preceding months or years. Once things are over, however, the one left with the broken heart takes the reins. The person who ended the relationship has to respect that they no longer have a say the course of the relationship.
“As the initiator of my breakup, I certainly feel like that position comes with certain responsibilities,” a trusted, and shall I say enlightened, male friend told me. “Mainly, these are straightforward– following the principle of, if you’re gonna break someone’s heart, don’t do things to make your ex’s life even worse…There are things that only my ex really knows about me, or understands, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok for me to call and lean on her, no matter what kind of a spot I’m in… ‘please talk to me, I think about you all the time’ just isn’t allowed.”